Farmers as energy producers – getting better information

Farmers contribute a significant proportion of total renewable feedstocks used in Sweden’s bioenergy production facilities. Australian farmers could make a similar contribution to energy production if decision makers were prepared to learn about and embrace the opportunities available.

















By Andrew Lang

While we should be hearing from government and media the good facts on development elsewhere of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the jobs and benefits that can come from this, it is unfortunately rarely the case.  Granted ABC radio carries the occasional story, and the regional press, but by comparison with coverage of football, movies, fashion, or pop celebrities, it is as nothing,

Consequently, Sweden is not a country we hear a lot about in regard to its achievements in reducing national and per-capita greenhouse gas emissions by development of renewable energy, public transport and energy efficiency. We don’t hear about the simple and effective carbon tax implemented in 1991, we don’t hear about the 2003 legislation banning landfilling of municipal waste, and we don’t hear that now biomass is the greatest source of the country’s final energy (the combined total of energy utilised across electricity, heat energy and transport fuels), significantly exceeding either fossil or nuclear energy.

We don’t hear that in Sweden which  is double the population and the size of Victoria, that the per-capita GHG emissions are only about 6 tonne CO2-e, about half that of Europe (11 tonne) and a quarter that of Australia (about 28 tonne). We don’t hear that almost half of all new cars sold in Sweden are able to run on the low emission fuels of ethanol, bio-methane or biodiesel. We don’t hear that of Sweden’s final energy (energy actually utilised), renewable energy currently makes up over 46%, with 34% of this from biomass, 10% from hydro and only 2% from wind.

And we don’t hear of Sweden’s target for cessation of imports of fossil fuels of any type by 2030. This includes coal, fuel oils and fossil-sourced transport fuels. Already in Sweden’s largest cities of Stockholm, Goteborg, Malmö and Uppsala, municipal fleets run on upgraded biogas, and city buses are running on either 100% ethanol, or biomethane, or in some cases, a methane-natural gas mix.

Ignore World Bioenergy conference

In early July the World Bioenergy 2014 conference takes place in Sweden. No Australians from state or federal government departments are likely to be there (none have attended this biennial conference since the first in 2004), or from conservation groups, energy companies, consultancies, universities or manufacturing industry. However this year Australia will be represented by three or four people. These are the writer of this piece (who has got to the last four), a local government councillor from Tasmania, and a person involved with community, farm forestry and landcare in northern Victoria.

The most energy-efficient way to access the conference city of Jönköping (pronounced Yernsherping) is by train from Stockholm. The first part of this four-hour journey is in an electric intercity train cruising smoothly at about 160 km/hr and tilting on the curves. If you don’t know when to look you would miss seeing the new biomass and waste-fuelled combined-heat-and-power (CHP) plant just south of Stockholm at Södertailje. One of many in planning or being constructed, this is fuelled by chipped forestry thinnings and residues and municipal solid waste. As well as putting 88 megawatts (MW) of electricity into the national grid it provides up to 200 MW of district heating into southern Stockholm’s apartment buildings and industry.

The train passes through a number of cities of under 100,00 population, each of which has power and heat coming from woody biomass, or from combustible non-recyclable municipal wastes, or with separate furnaces designed to be fuelled by each but supplying a common turbine-generator setup.

The oldest of these CHP plants is where you change trains at Nassjö to the train on the spur line to the conference city of Jönköping. This small CHP plant built in 1984 was Sweden’s first purpose-designed woodchip-fuelled plant. It supplies this small city of 20,000 with all its electricity and heat needs, and the ash from the furnaces is spread back in the forests where the fuel of woody residues came from. In smaller and larger cities, the putrescible (wet organic) wastes including sewage go into anaerobic digestors, which might produce only upgraded biogas for transport fuel or to go into the natural gas grid, or only heat and electricity, or both. At Linköping, one of the cities we pass, upgraded biogas fuels a regular freight train service.

The 3-day conference at Jönköping is widely known as possibly the best of its type in the world, attracting up to 1100 people from up to 60 countries. Presentations cover the full array of bioenergy technologies at all scales, that utilise one of the many feedstocks to produce electricity, heat and transport fuels, and other products, and cover all aspects of economics, environmental benefit, policy and sustainability. This year there is a parallel conference on bio-refineries, and so the products being talked about will include industrial chemicals, including substitutes for most petrochemicals.

Jönköping is a great place to have this conference for other reasons. Conference participants can visit the modernistic Torsvik waste-to-energy plant located 13 km outside the city. This annually turns 160,000 tonnes of sorted combustible municipal waste into 30% of the city’s electricity and 50% of its peak winter heat needs. Within the city they can visit the anerobic digestor that converts the population’s putrescibles wastes into upgraded biogas for the municipal fleet and private vehicles. Or they can take an afternoon bus tour to the nearby city of Växjö, rated as ‘Europe’s greenest city’, with its per-capita GHG emissions of under 3.5 tonne. Here over 80% of the municipal population’s domestic, commercial and industrial energy needs, including transport fuel and cooling, are sourced from biomass and waste streams produced in the municipality. Other afternoon excursions go to other bioenergy plants of all types, from small pellet producers to anaerobic digestors converting cow manure to biogas.

While I realise that not all of this biomass in Sweden is coming from farmers (much is coming from urban housholds), in Australia farmers would be a major source for much of this, just as they are in Germany and many other regions (i.e., China and India).

So to help fund the people going to the conference I have entered a project called ‘Farmers as energy producers’ into a competition to win $10,000. I ask all who have read this to go to the website www.greatstateofag.com.au/coles-seed-fund-home    and vote for this entry. While three of us are presently going I hope it becomes more, and I am looking for others from among renewable energy groups, the Greens, EPA, Sustainability Vic, or local government.

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